(203) 453-5067 Laura@HandleEducation.com

The “Secret” of Intrinsic Motivation

What constitutes a rewarding life?  What spurs some people to pursue their interests actively, while others remain passive observers?  Motivation is a crucial factor for achievement in personal and professional pursuits.  Yet, working for some extrinsic reward, whether tangible like money, or intangible, like fame, may not provide a deep sense of fulfillment even after one does achieve the pinnacle of “success.” One need only glance at headlines to realize the hollow success of many cases of celebrity. On the other hand, working at something for the sheer enjoyment is the hallmark of intrinsic motivation:  Intrinsic motivation is defined as performing an action or behavior because you enjoy the activity itself . .  . the inspiration for acting on intrinsic motivation can be found in the action itself. Shouldn’t the goal of education be much more than the recitation of facts for content areas? Wouldn’t helping students find their passion provide them with a pathway to a fulfilling life? To quote Maya Angelou: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them . . .” The lesson here is that learning for its own sake can be enormously rewarding. It  can perpetuate a sustained desire to become proficient in an an academic subject, a skill, or a talent.  Couldn’t the development of the intrinsic motivation to learn help to decrease the drop-out rate in some of our nation’s communities?  Is it well worth attempting, as the world becomes increasingly dependent on knowledge workers? While research studies point to the importance of intrinsic motivation, few actually provide the “how to.”  Teachers can… Read More »

Make Mistakes and Learn!

  Alexander Pope wrote, “To err is human . . . ” Making mistakes is inherently human, so people can take the opportunity to grow and learn from their errors. In her book, Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz explains. “Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition.  Far from being a moral flaw. it is inextricable from some of our most human and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction, and courage . . . wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change.” When people share their mistakes, they can adjust their behavior and learn.  In an Edutopia article, Dr. Richard Curwin addresses the positive aspect of educators sharing mistakes: “When a teacher forms strong relationships with another teacher or two, they share their problems freely, ask for and give advice, and learn from each other.  . . . An important side effect of discussing mistakes might be to change the perception of mistakes, not only for teachers, but for students as well. When teachers learn from their mistakes, they might be more willing to let students learn from theirs.” Teachers can promote a positive learning environment by demonstrating that mistakes are an integral part of the learning process. Admitting mistakes provides the opportunity to practice an open mind-set.  In order to engender positive thinking, teachers can embrace the chances for “teachable moments” in a variety of ways.  First of all, they can share their own mistakes, thus demonstrating that the classroom is a safe environment for learning. They can explain what mistakes students made and allow them to correct and re-do their work.… Read More »

Fostering Intrinsic Motivation-Allowing Choice

    In a previous blog post, I described the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Research has demonstrated that external rewards are ineffective for long-term positive results whether in the academic realm or the workplace. But internal goals can boost the ability to achieve. As early as fifty years ago, James Coleman,from Johns Hopkins University, found that students’ attitudes regarding the amount of  control they had over their lives directly affected their achievement. Fast forward to the present, and this concept of self determination has not yet been fully integrated into our educational system.  According to a recent article in Educational Leadership, high school dropouts often feel that external forces control their lives: They are “buffeted by fate.”  One important element in fostering a sense of control is CHOICE. Bryan Goodwin cites a meta-analysis form 2012: ” . . . feeling in control of one’s life, combined with academic self-efficacy and goal orientation, accounted for roughly 20% of the variance in university students’ grade point average.”  So, how can teachers help students take control of their learning? They can provide choice in their classrooms. Teachers can empower their students in active learning by allowing them to participate in their education. Rather than engaging in  authoritarian behavior, in which students have no options, authoritative teachers provide opportunities that engender a love of larding.  These choices can range from the  electives they choose to the order in which  students complete assignments to the types and scope of projects they will submit. Even small choices can affect students’ attitudes. Helping students learn that they have control over their lives is one of the most valuable lessons for school and… Read More »

Attending to Attention: Providing “Brain Breaks”

According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, the ability to focus is imperative to mastering cognitively demanding tasks. Certainly, absorbing challenging academic content requires deep work. Trying to do so in an environment that provides a multitude of distractions such as a classroom can be a daunting undertaking.  The first step a teacher can take to optimizing the classroom environment involves communicating clear and fair behavior guidelines before content instruction begins.  Once the teacher establishes and reinforces desired classroom decorum, students can pay attention, and the essential work of instruction can begin. A recent article in Edutopia by Dr. Desautels, a professor of education, highlights the importance of attention, because students need to be calm and focused in order to absorb new material. Breaking content into smaller segments is an effective means to absorb content.  When instructing students on time management at home,  I suggest that they spend no more than 45 minutes on any particular task without taking a short three to five minute break. Physical movement like stretching or going to the kitchen for a drink of water can help avoid fatigue. It can also avoid overstimulating the brain, which can lead to a loss of attention. Dr. Desautels suggests providing brief “brain breaks” in a classroom. “We can use brain breaks and focused-attention practices to positively impact our emotional states and learning. They refocus our neural circuitry with either stimulating or quieting practices that generate increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, where problem solving and emotional regulation occur.”  This short break can actually help process the information. Incorporating brain breaks… Read More »

The Right Questions

The essential mission of any classroom teacher involves the dissemination of knowledge.  Whatever the subject matter, the teacher serves as a guide to the development of cognition, or the process of thinking.  The key word in that definition is “process.”  True learning involves understanding. In fact, the ultimate goal of education is to lead the learner on a journey of inquiry. As such, it employs higher order thinking skills.  It results in much more than a simple regurgitation of facts about a particular subject. It includes examining one’s own thinking or “metacognition:” Teachers can help students to embark on their  crucial discovery by asking the “right” questions. Detail questions( who, what, when, where) demonstrate that students can refer to a text, story, or process to find the answers. These types of factual questions do not necessarily involve understanding.  On the other hand, “how” and “why” questions encourage learners to analyze and reflect. In his book, Now That’s a Good Question, Eric Francis provides a variety of questions for a range of academic subjects that lead to higher thinking processes.  For example, he provides contrasts between a number factual questions and analytical ones. Notice the different phrasing. “What is Poe’s philosophy of composition?” vs. “How does (the author) convey his philosophy of composition in his own works?’ What is the date of the Declaration of Independence vs. “How and why is the Declaration of Independence written like a formal legal document?” “What are the properties of of equality?’ vs. “How do the properties of equality determine the equivalence of equations?” (58) Reflective questions . . . “teach students to analyze why and encourage them to be evaluative as they do the following: inquire and investigate.”(73) Once students become familiar with… Read More »

Soft Skills and Mindsets-Essential for Learning

How a person approaches life  certainly says a great deal about him or  her.  In fact, history provides many examples of individuals who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to surpass everyone’s expectations.  One such historical example is currently being lionized  on the Broadway stage: Alexander Hamilton. This West Indian orphan  abandoned at an early age, sailed across the Caribbean to became the right hand man of George Washington and  the first Secretary of the US Treasury. What accounted for this seemingly miraculous transformation? The many documents he  left behind, demonstrate that he had an almost insatiable appetite for learning. Furthermore, he appeared to embody personal  traits such as Work ethic, attitude, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and a whole host of other personal attributes that are the soft skills that are crucial for career success.  In short, he appears to have possessed a “growth mindset.” What is a mindset?  In her book by the same name, Carol Dweck defines it as “the view that (a person) adopts of himself.”(Dweck p. 25)  People can exhibit either a fixed or  growth mindset.  Students who believe that they are born with a certain ability that nothing can change, being either smart or dumb, have a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset appears to be quite detrimental to learning.  These individuals have labeled themselves and may avoid learning anything that interferes with this perception. Thus, children who are labeled as “smart” often refuse to work on challenging material.  The task may be “dumb,” so they throw up their hands and walk away. they don’t learn. On the other hand, a growth mindset allows people to believe that they can… Read More »

If schools were permitted to have just one training, this is the one!

This training will help to raise test scores for your students, decrease discipline challenges, and improve classroom rapport. You will learn how to meet students where they are and lead them where they need to be, capture attention, and promote deeper learning.